Nomadic and Working: Part I

August 9, 2014

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This week marks the first of my attempts to stay nomadic while working a full-time job. Now, I should clarify that my situation is unique: I have a job that requires traveling all over the Bay and covers hotels once or twice a month for longer stints. Nevertheless, the fact that I have to consider such a position is a little depressing. And it comes down to not having a self-sufficient salary.

What does that term mean to me? Ideally, I would think everyone who works a full-time job in the US would be able to afford a place to live alone, enough for a healthy diet, insurance, and a little cash in the bank. The basics. I’m a little torn on whether this standard should include a car, because I endorse public transportation. However, it should come as no surprise to anyone that in the US, the minimum wage is not a self-sufficient salary. Nor is a wage significantly higher than the minimum for most major cities.

I don’t really want to plaster my salary and working hours all over the Internet, but sufficed to say, I don’t make enough to live comfortably in San Francisco. I can choose to live with roommates without a car and eat well with the proper insurance, or I can get my own place and go into debt with car payments, placing all food on my credit card and waiting for the debt collectors to come. There is no alternative when studios and one bedrooms start at around $2000/month.

And so, I have to rely on my greatest asset to get ahead: my ability to travel. It’s more than simply having the means to book a plane ticket and work abroad, rather learning to cope in a different environment day after day. For someone living in another country, this shouldn’t be a shock. However, the challenge will be to attempt to live like a traveler in the US.

From Thursday, I’m in Sacramento on a work trip. I Couchsurfed in Davis to allow myself an extra hotel night on the company’s dime. In a few days, I’ll be leaving for Canada for a week. And this trip is telling in and of itself: many people, even seasoned travelers, pay rent on their place at home while they’re not using it. Of course, Airbnb and Craigslist have allowed them to rent out rooms and entire apartments, but when this option isn’t available, they have to suck it up and keep leasing an empty room.

Let me be frank: rent is a disgusting aspect of adult life for this very reason. If we could pay only for the time we’re home, debt would practically be eliminated. Naturally, this isn’t going to happen, but I refuse to participate when it’s such a flagrant waste of money like being away on vacation, stability be damned. When I didn’t have a place lined up at the beginning of August and I knew I’d be in Canada for a chunk of the month, it never occurred to me to put cash down on a temporary place for four weeks; I’d rather surf friends’ couches and rely on hostel dorms.

Unfortunately, even hostels aren’t money savers, at least in California. Dorm rooms in San Francisco are about $40/night (usually more), meaning an average monthly rent of $1200. For that price, you wouldn’t be able to get your own place, but you’d definitely have a room in any part of the city. As such, the only way I can save money is to surf couches and rely on company sponsored trips. Nothing else works financially.

Although I am capable of supporting this kind of lifestyle practically indefinitely, it’s starting to wear a little thin. The whole point in coming back to the US was to try and achieve a little stability. If I can’t even do that working full time, there may be little purpose in staying.

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